Then I heard it--the voice over the CB radio. “You’re on fire! You’re on fire!” The voice repeated, this time with more urgency, “Charlie! Get out! You’re on fire!”
I sat there, frozen, unable to process the reality of what I’d just heard. “Oh, shit!” sweet little Charlie yelled, grabbing his door handle. “We’ve got to get out, darlin’--get outta here!” He opened his door, swung his feeble knees around, and let gravity pull him out of the pickup; I, in turn, did the same. Covering my head instinctively as I ditched, I darted away from the vehicle, running smack-dab into Marlboro Man’s brother, Tim, in the process. He was spraying the side of Charlie’s pickup, which, by now, was engulfed in flames. I kept running until I was sure I was out of the path of danger.
“Ree! Where’d you come from?!?” Tim yelled, barely taking his eyes off the fire on the truck, which, by then, was almost extinguished. Tim hadn’t known I was on the scene. “You okay?” he yelled, glancing over to make sure I wasn’t on fire, too. A cowboy rushed to Charlie’s aid on the other side of the truck. He was fine, too, bless his heart.
By now Marlboro Man had become aware of the commotion, not because he’d seen it happen through the smoke, but because his hose had reached the end of its slack and Charlie’s truck was no longer following behind. Another spray truck had already rushed over to Marlboro Man’s spot and resumed chasing the fire--the same fire that might have gobbled up a rickety, old spray truck, an equally rickety man named Charlie, and me. Luckily Tim had been nearby when a wind gust blew the flames over Charlie’s truck, and had acted quickly.
The fire on the truck was out by now, and Marlboro Man rushed over, grabbed my shoulders, and looked me over--trying, in all the confusion, to make sure I was in one piece. And I was. Physically, I was perfectly fine. My nervous system, on the other hand, was a shambles. “You okay?” he shouted over the crackling sounds of the fire. All I could do was nod and bite my lip to keep from losing it. Can I go home now? was the only thing going through my mind. That, and I want my mommy. The fire was farther away by now, but it seemed to be growing in intensity. Even I could tell the wind had picked up.
Marlboro Man and Tim looked at each other…and burst out in nervous laughter--the kind of laugh you laugh when you almost fall but don’t; when your car almost goes off a cliff but comes to a stop right at the edge; when your winning team almost misses the winning pass but doesn’t; or when your fiancée and a local cowboy are almost burned alive…but aren’t. I might have laughed, too, if I could muster any breath.